President-elect Donald Trump accepts the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the presidential election, his incoming White House Chief of staff said.
“I think he accepts the findings,” Reince Priebus said ”He’s not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular campaign. ”
Intelligence officials allege that Moscow directed a series of hacks in order to help Mr Trump win the White House. Mr Trump has repeatedly expressed scepticism about Russia’s role and has declined to say whether he accepts the meddling was done on his behalf.
On Friday, US intelligence briefed the president-elect on their conclusions that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump win the White House. Mr Priebus attended along with Mr Trump.
In an interview with The Associated Press after the briefing, Mr Trump said he “learned a lot” from his discussions with intelligence officials, but he declined to say whether he accepted their assertion about Russia’s motives.
An unclassified version of the report directly tied Russian president Vladimir Putin to election meddling and said that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Mr Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump and his allies have bristled at any implication that the meddling helped him win the election. He won the Electoral College vote with 306 votes, topping the 270 votes required to become president.
Accepting those findings would be a positive step – but not enough, said one leading Senate Republican who is calling for more sanctions against Russia.
“He’s going to be the defender of the free world here pretty soon,” Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump critic, said. ”All I’m asking him is to acknowledge that Russia interfered, and push back. It could be Iran next time. It could be China. ”
On Wednesday, Mr Trump is expected to hold a long-delayed press conference on how he is organising his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest while he is president. He has taken sporadic questions and done interviews, but it will be his first fully-fledged news conference since July 27.
That same day on Capitol Hill, the Senate is holding at least nine hearings on Mr Trump’s Cabinet and other nominees, a pace set by the Republican majority that Democrats have complained is too fast. The government ethics office says several of Mr Trump’s Cabinet choices have not completed a full review to avoid conflicts of interest.
Mr Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay the allegations against Russia, alarming some who see a pattern of scepticism directed at US intelligence agencies and a willingness to embrace the Russian leader.
On Friday after receiving a classified briefing on the matter, Mr Trump tried to change the subject to allegations that had not been raised by US intelligence. “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched! ”
He then declared in a series of tweets on Saturday that having a good relationship with Russia is “a good thing, not a bad thing”. He added, “only ‘stupid’ people or fools” would come to a different conclusion.